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Natasha Pulley: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street - News from Nowhere [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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Natasha Pulley: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street [Oct. 7th, 2017|05:10 pm]

When we were in Whitby in August, BoyBear gave me this book (it was his birthday, after all) with the explanation that he had found it in a charity shop, and, on reflection, thought I would probably like it better than he had. Which I interpreted as meaning that he had not liked it, and as I liked it quite a bit, I wondered what the problem was. Recently I had a chance to ask him, and he clarified: "I enjoyed reading it. But..."

That made a whole lot more sense. I, too, enjoyed reading it. But...

It's always a treat to read a book completely unspoilered, a book about which you know nothing at all. So I plunged in to the meticulous account of the work of the Home Office telegraphy department. Not present day, then. Victorian, with a very steampunk aesthetic. But telegraphy is very steampunk, when you think about it, so this could still be a historical novel, just described in a way I associate with the speculative. And it's good to be reminded that just because I don't recognise a historical event, that doesn't prove we're dealing with alt-history: maybe it's just something I don't know about. But I don't think it's giving too much away to say that the eponymous watchmaker is from the very first skilled at his work to a non-realistic extent, and eventually turns out to be rather more than that. Which makes the book speculative fiction of some kind.

So why hadn't I heard of it? Feel free to tell me that actually it was being discussed all over the internets, and I can't have been paying attention. That's certainly one possibility. Turning to the back cover copy (something I rarely do before I have finished reading a book) I see that it was a "Guardian Summer Read". Whatever that means, it implies some degree of visibility - but maybe not in a category I would have picked up on. Still on the back cover, the Irish Times praised it as an "ambitious debut" that combines "historical fiction, magic realism and elements of gothic fiction" - none of your nasty genre elements here, then!

Regard this as a public service announcement, then: genre readers, this book has much to offer. That's not to say it has no faults, though it's difficult to discuss them without giving away more of the plot than I'm prepared to: indeed, one of my reservations is about the neatness of the ending (though other readers may find this a plus rather than a minus). The watchmakers ability seems to change its nature part way through the book, and an 'explanation' for it is proffered which only makes sense if a scientific theory which was discredited in our world holds true in the world of the novel (which flirts with the subject, but doesn't quite lay its cards on the table). But there's a clockwork octopus, for which much may be forgiven.

Despite the steampunk, the book it most reminded of was Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which I immensely enjoyed reading without ever quite becoming emotionally engaged with it.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.